4 + 1 = Success
Baylor Arts & Sciences student Sydney Graham still doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree after almost five years of study. But the communication major hasn’t been squandering her time –– far from it. In fact, when Graham walks across the stage at commencement this May, she will not only receive her BA degree, but also a master’s degree in corporate communication. And to top it all off, she’ll move from Baylor straight to a job at a Washington, D.C., museum.
So, how did Graham manage to earn two degrees in such a short time? It’s because she’s one of the first persons to benefit from a new “4+1” program in the College of Arts & Sciences that allows students to work on undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same time.
Known as joint degree programs, 4+1 programs enable students to complete a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in five years instead of the usual six. The College of Arts & Sciences now has two 4+1 programs in place –– in communication and classics –– while a third program in biology dealing with global health is in the planning stage.
“Joint degree programs are not new to Baylor,” said Dr. Ken Wilkins, professor of biology and associate dean for sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. “In fact, we have 25 joint degrees. Some focus on earning two bachelor’s degrees or two master’s degrees or a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. These programs are really powerful ways to have an efficient and coordinated approach to developing a specialization in particular areas.”
Graham had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree prior to the introduction of the corporate communication program, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do following the completion of her senior year. Since the 4+1 program would give her additional time to figure that out, she decided to apply on a whim, knowing it would be a rare opportunity.
“I was encouraged by family and friends to explore the option, and once I met with Dr. Lacy McNamee, the director of the program, and other professors, I became more excited about all the potential,” Graham said.
The communication 4+1 program combines a traditional BA degree requiring 36 credit hours with a 30-hour MA degree. One difference is that while students in the traditional program have the time and opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant, students in the 4+1 program aren’t able to be a TA while completing their degrees.
“The program is not all that different in terms of demands,” said McNamee, associate professor of communication. “For example, all students take a research methods class.”
Student Ethan Blake, who is pursuing a minor in business administration to go along with his major in communication, finished his first semester in the 4+1 program in December 2018. He found the course work demanding, but manageable.
“My course work would have been a lot easier if I had gone the traditional route and earned a bachelor’s degree first,” Blake said. “Last semester I took 19 hours, and six of those were graduate level classes. I have traditional graduate students in those classes, and that was intimidating at first.”
The corporate communication 4+1 students also must complete either a thesis that is subject to all standard requirements or an internship practicum. If choosing the practicum, they must convene a committee and complete a shortened paper and presentation that includes internship faculty.
Graham’s approach to fulfilling this requirement was a bit unusual. She decided to not only complete a thesis, but to also do an internship as well.
“I never had any interest in writing a thesis or applying for a PhD program, but I really found a passion in learning about the complex relationship between occupational stigma and identity. I wrote on the topic several times during the first year of the program but never felt like I was ready to let it go,” Graham said. “Last May, I told Dr. McNamee about the inner struggle I was having just thinking about no longer writing on this topic, and that’s when we decided that doing both a thesis and an internship could be an option.”
For her internship, Graham moved to Washington, D.C., in January 2019 to join the communication and public relations team at Museum of the Bible. The internship led to her being offered a job with the museum following graduation.
“The vast majority of our students will go into the industry,” McNamee said. “There are a lot of jobs, and these are students who benefit from having a master’s degree. They are in high demand.”
The 4+1 program in classics was approved by Baylor Regents in May 2018, along with a traditional two-year master’s program. Students can begin the new five-year program in the fall of 2019, and some current freshmen may be eligible to enroll after their junior year. Baylor currently has one of the largest undergraduate classics departments in the nation. Students focus on the cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans through their history, literature, religion, social and political ideas, and languages (Greek and Latin).
“To understand the ancient world and its cultures as fully as possible, students in classics must first understand the languages in which those cultures expressed themselves,” said Dr. Daniel P. Hanchey, associate professor of classics and undergraduate program director. “As a result, classics students spend much of the early part of their undergraduate experiences in learning Greek and Latin. The 4+1 program will allow our students to take that step and then still another, as they ultimately produce original research based on the skills and knowledge they’ve gained.”
Hanchey said the classics 4+1 program will have two great advantages for students.
“It will fast-forward the process of our students being admitted to PhD programs, and it will permit them to complete the journey from language learners to readers to researchers in a single setting,” he said.
Today’s students are looking for any competitive edge they can get, said Dr. Kevin Chambliss, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Baylor’s interim vice provost for research. He said having a master’s degree will give a student a leg up if they are competing against someone with just a bachelor’s degree, while having a master’s degree can also result in higher salaries and quicker promotions.
“I don’t see any disadvantages to a 4+1 program,” Chambliss said. “Students get the same level of course work and experience. And from a parental standpoint, the financial advantages of a streamlined program are very attractive.”
Graham sees even more benefits that can come from being in a 4+1 program.
“The 4+1 has the potential to open up incredible networking opportunities both within academia and in industry that you might not have otherwise,” she said. “This program has taught me just how worthy, valuable and adequate I am. My confidence has skyrocketed since I started. I feel like I have come alive in this program, and if you’re willing to challenge yourself and take full advantage of all the program has to offer, you’ll leave changed for the better.”